Andy Hamilton – Iowa City Press-Citizen
CEDAR FALLS — To hear others speak of his work, it might sound as if Terry Brands was employed as some sort of project manager if you didn’t know better.
During the first 10 weeks of his second stint as an Iowa assistant wrestling coach, the two-time World champion’s influence on the program has perhaps been felt most by the individuals who have become his personal projects.
“I feel like I’m kind of his project, “said junior Ryan Morningstar, whose renaissance at 165 pounds this season has been one of the reasons the Hawkeyes enter this weekend’s NWCA National Duals as the No. 1 seed. “We do a lot of drilling together in the mornings and break down film together. He’s taken me under his wing and worked with me quite a bit and it’s been real positive for me.”
Brands has his fingerprints on others, too. He has helped Iowa’s freshmen adapt to college wrestling, he was instrumental in getting heavyweight Blake Rasing to rejoin the Hawkeyes and brought the program another specialist in the field of technique.
And going into this morning’s 9 a.m. opening-round dual against Wyoming (3-0) in the UNI-Dome, there’s no question the No. 1 Hawkeyes (10-0) are glad Brands is in their corner rather than on the other side.
Wyoming made a play to hire Brands this summer, offering him its head coaching position but apparently not offering enough resources to hire him.
“I was fired up, “said Brands, who spent the previous three years as USA Wrestling’s freestyle resident coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. “I was really fired up. I really liked Tom Burman, their A.D. He’s a super guy, straight up. They just couldn’t put the numbers together in the right order. It came down to more of a staff thing.
“I wanted to be able to hire my own staff and have a say in that and they had signed those guys to a one-year contract and they couldn’t really let them out. But the program is a great program and they did the right thing by getting the guy in there they did (former Oklahoma State assistant Mark Branch). I think he’s the best guy for the job.”
Consequently, it opened the door for Iowa coach Tom Brands to land his top target to replace assistant Wes Hand, who resigned in June, and add his twin brother to a coaching staff that also included Olympians Doug Schwab and Mike Zadick and strength and conditioning coach Jared Frayer.
“I know our room needed him, and when the opportunity presented itself we went after what we needed and so far it’s been good, “Tom Brands said. “He’s not what you’d call a traditional role coach. He works a lot in a corner with individuals. A lot of coaches do that, but it’s different. It’s a slow, steady process where it’s not just something you see and it’s off the cuff and you correct it. But it’s over and over and over again over a long period of time.”
In Morningstar’s case, Terry Brands has provided a steady dose of positive reinforcement. The junior compiled a 48-26 record at 157 pounds during his first two seasons with the Hawkeyes. Up a weight and heavier on confidence, Morningstar is 14-1 this year and ranked third at 165 after claiming a title at the Midlands Championships.
“I remember watching him (in high school) when he was at Junior Nationals and thinking that if he made two adjustments how doggone tough he’d be, “Terry said. “I never really saw that adjustment until this year. (But) the positions that he’s always lacked in, he’s done a fundamental job of shoring those up.”
There was so much uncertainty in the fall surrounding Rasing’s career with the Hawkeyes that the redshirt freshman wasn’t even listed in the team’s media guide.
“I planned on not coming back, “he said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I look back and I don’t know what triggered it. I didn’t listen to Tom, which I regret now. I didn’t listen to what he was saying. I had it in my head what I was doing and that’s how it was going to go.”
At the time, Iowa was short-staffed. Terry was fulfilling his final obligations to USA Wrestling. His brother, Schwab, Zadick and Frayer were left to oversee a roster with 38 other wrestlers and get the Hawkeyes prepared to begin pursuit of another national championship.
Though the Iowa coaches thought highly of Rasing’s long-term potential and needed him to fortify their depth at heavyweight, they couldn’t convince him at the time to look past the thought of punching the clock for four more years in the practice room rather than taking a daily approach to training.
It was a concept that Rasing didn’t grab onto until Terry Brands arrived in November and gravitated toward the heavyweight from New Hampton.
“I had some issues the first semester and he’s kind of brought me all the way around and back into the sport pretty much, “Rasing said. “Terry had a lot to do with it, but I think it was kind of the timing. Maybe my head wasn’t right at the beginning and Terry took the initiative and gave me another shot.”
Brands said he turned to past experiences he had during stints as an assistant at Nebraska and Montana State-Northern and head coaching experience at Tennessee-Chattanooga to help bring Rasing back. He said he especially drew from his season with the Huskers in 2001 when he worked on first-year coach Mark Manning’s staff.
“Those guys were glued into the former staff and they canned the whole thing, “Brands said. “We came in as a brand new staff and it was tough to get those guys’ attention. A hard-ass wasn’t going to do it.
“Ultimately, it’s been Rasing, it hasn’t been me, if you want to know the truth of it. Rasing just decided he wanted to be here, and he is damn capable.”
While the move back to Iowa has enabled Brands to continue working with wrestlers who have aspirations of reaching the highest level in the sport — former Olympic Training Center residents Steve Mocco and Bryce Hasseman moved to Iowa to continue training with him — it has also allowed him to have perhaps a greater influence on younger wrestlers.
“It’s been better than I expected, “he said. “I was thinking it was going to be another coaching role, and it’s been a lifestyle role. It’s been really good. It’s been really good to get back to, not only that elite development but also that grassroots development with the freshmen, with Nate Moore, (Grant) Gambrall and Montell Marion, reconnecting with him, just to use those three as an example. It’s been real good for me.
“Some of those guys I got my hands on at the OTC were set in their ways and even though they weren’t getting the results they wanted, they wanted to do it their way, and that’s difficult for me to handle and I butted heads quite often with the administration and with the athletes there.”
Now Brands fits in with a coaching staff and program that seems to have the same vision and approach toward the sport from his role as a coach up to his twin brother’s position as the CEO of the operation.
“I don’t like to look at it that way, but that’s what it boils down to, that’s the tiring part of it, “Tom said. “But at the same time, you’ve got a lot of people who are pretty excited about this thing and we’ve got to do a do a good job of managing it. And you know what? I think we have. I think we’ve captured the passion of what this place is all about and I think we keep adding to it.”
They keep adding to it one project at a time.